Lost Sydney: Monorail

Long regarded as the ugly duckling of the Sydney's transport network, the monorail hit peak popularity levels on 30th June 2013, with 1500 people vying to be a part of its last ride through the city before being torn down. Sadly for its small band of devotees, Sydney Monorail just never quite fit in with the hustle and bustle of big city living.

Known simply as the Monorail, this vision of modernist transport could be seen daily, snaking its way along a suspended steel track between the growing skyscrapers of downtown Pitt Street, brushing the fringes of Chinatown and rumbling over the elegant Pyrmont Bridge, its passengers gawking at the wonderful vistas over a resplendent Darling Harbour, the 'darling' in fact, of that magnificent bi-centennial period of Australia s history.

Unveiled in 1988 to service the needs of commuters and tourists alike, its introduction coincided with the high profile redevelopment of Darling Harbour, from gritty working class port to entertainment, shopping and conference mecca, a lasting symbol of Australia's coming of age boom-time. The decision to build the monorail over other forms of rail (e.g. light rail) was in the eyes of many, a political decision that came under attack from day one. Light rail would have been cheaper to build, service more passengers per hour and cost 40% less for a ticket, but the monorail system prevailed.

As a people mover, it rated quite well, with around three million people using it per year, despite the high ticket prices, though it never reached its projected passenger numbers. It was never as effective as light rail, and though it was a hit with tourists who were delighted at the opportunity to view Sydney's central shopping district from above, free from noisy traffic and crowned footpaths, it didn't cut the bill for residents as a viable means of public transport. To most Sydneysiders, it was at best a tourist attrction, a gimmick and a fad whose novelty disipated over time, and at worst, an eyesore destroying the streetscape, a white elephant, and a liability rather than an asset.

About the Monorail
The Sydney Monorail (originally TNT Harbourlink and later Metro Monorail) was a single-loop monorail that connected Darling Harbour, Chinatown and the Sydney central business and shopping districts. It opened in July 1988 and closed in June 2013. There were eight stations on the 3.6 kilometre loop, with up to four trains operating simultaneously. It served major attractions and facilities such as the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Aquarium, Harbourside Shopping Centre and Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Delivered in 1987, six trains of seven carriages were built by Von Roll Holding. Each seated 48 passengers, with the driver in the leading car, but were designed to seat 56, using all seven carriages. The monorail trains ran on rubber wheels, and each seven car train had six 37 kilowatts (50 hp) traction motors, permitting a normal operating speed of 33 km/h. The doors of each car were automatic, and the floor level was self-adjusting via an automatic suspension system. Each train was 32.12 metres long, 2.06 metres wide, and 2.6 metres high.

The original operation hours were to be 6 am to midnight, but after two years of operation, patronage was half those expected, and planned stations at Market Street (to be named Casino, as part of the gaming venue planned to be built on the site) and Harbour Street (to be named Gardenside) were not built for some time. The Government of New South Wales bought both the monorail and the light rail service from Metro Transport Sydney in March 2012 to enable it to extend the light rail system without having to negotiate with the private owners, and to remove the monorail from the area near Haymarket required for the expanded Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Two carriages and 10 metres of track have been preserved at the Powerhouse Museum. Two carriages are being used as meeting rooms in Google's Pyrmont offices. A full train was preserved by the Sydney Electric Train Society. In January 2015, 22 carriages were put up for sale on Gumtree Australia at $3,000 per carriage. Many of these carriages were subsequently sold to an Australian expat living in Taiwan. One was sold to a pair of radio hosts. Four, which comprise the only set of carriages preserved with all running gear that includes both a front and a rear carriage as well as middle carriages, were sold to a Sydney resident who indicated his desire to restore them to running condition.

Surprisingly, the Monorail isn't the only refurbishment of Darling Harbour in 1the 1908s that is longer there. The award-winning Exhibition Centre and curvaceous Conference Centre have also gone, to be replaced by bigger (and some would say) better examples of their kind. Some later additions have come and gone as well, like the short-lived but ambitious Sega World.